Professional social workers are employed in a variety of settings. They work in the medical field, in schools, in government agencies, and in non-profit organizations. While the scope of their work varies, social workers are working hard to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities. Because of its diversity, social work can be an exciting and challenging field to work in.
Social workers need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree (BSW). More specialized jobs require a Master’s in Social Work degree (MSW). For many adults, obtaining their degree through online courses is an ideal way to balance school, work, and family. Below is more information about the social work field and obtaining a social work degree online.
Employment Opportunities and Salary Potential
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), the demand for social workers is expected to grow through the year 2018. One area of social work that is expected to grow fast is gerontology. As the “baby boomer” generation ages, there will be a greater demand for social workers to help meet the needs of the elderly. The aging population will also necessitate more social workers in the medical field. The need for social workers in substance abuse and mental health settings is also expected to increase. It is expected that there will be a continued need for social workers in child and family settings, such as child welfare. Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 16 percent increase in social work employment over the next several years.
Social worker salaries can vary, with those in the medical field making more than those in mental health settings. Salaries can vary according to geographic region. Typically, social workers employed by non-profit organizations will make less than social workers in for-profit or government settings. A social worker with less than one year of experience can expect to make between $25,919 and $32,896 according to www.payscale.com. A social worker who has between five and nine years of work experience can make between $29,387 and $40,971. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for a child and family social worker is $43,120. The median salary for medical social workers is $47,560. The median social worker salary for mental health social workers is $39,630.
What will I learn in a Social Work degree program?
Social workers work with people in a wide variety of settings to help people improve their lives. This work can be done by working with individuals, families, groups, or communities. Social work degree programs give students the tools and knowledge they need to work in any of these settings. A social worker must have basic knowledge of human development and psychology; therefore, courses in these areas will likely be required. Other courses will cover topics such as interpersonal skills, interviewing techniques, social policy, and how to work with groups, families, and community organizations. Courses in social work research may also be required. In addition, specialized courses are available that address specific issues or populations. For example, specialized courses may focus on family dynamics, child welfare, aging, or children and adolescents.
Social workers work with people from a wide variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Therefore, course work will focus on respecting and understanding different cultures and backgrounds. Social workers also agree to adhere to a Code of Ethics. Ethical social work practice and demonstrating respect for all people will be core pieces of a social work curriculum.
A key component of social work degree programs is the completion of a field practicum. A student must complete a specified number of hours working on a volunteer basis in a social work agency for course credit. During the field practicum, the student will perform social work duties to gain hands on experience. This is an opportunity for the student to apply what is learned in previous course work to real life situations. Field work is generally completed toward the end of the social work program and students are supervised by practicing social workers at the agency they are placed at.
Social Work Degrees, Licensing, and Accreditation
There are many employers who require that social work professionals be licensed social workers. To become a licensed social worker, professionals must go through a licensing process established by the state they work and/or live in. Interested professionals should contact their state’s licensing agency for specific information on how to become licensed. However, all states require that social workers obtain their degree in social work from a school that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. A degree in human services, counseling, or psychology is not as specialized as a social work degree and will not meet licensure requirements. For those interested in becoming a licensed social worker, it is vital to make sure their educational program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. This can be done by checking with the school or by viewing a list at the Council’s web site at www.cswe.org.
On-Line Social Work Programs
There are not a lot of online social work degree programs. However, several accredited universities do offer online programs. The following schools are all accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and offer online programs. Contact the individual school for more information.
Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Contact Information: www.mscd.edu/socialwork
P.O. Box 173362
Central Classroom 207
Denver CO 80217
At this time, this program is available online to residents of Colorado only.
Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)
Florida State University
Contact Information: www.fsu.edu
College of Social Work
University Center Building C
Tallahassee FL 32306-2570
This is an online Master’s degree program that can be completed in five to six semesters on a part-time basis. A Bachelor’s degree in social work is required for admission. Currently, this program is only available to residents of the following states: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
Michigan State University
Contact Information: http://socialwork.msu.edu
254 Baker Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824
This program is a “hybrid” program. It combines online courses with videoconferencing to create a distance education program.
Social workers provide valuable services to their communities. They are dedicated to creating positive change, whether it be by working with individuals or by advocating for policy changes that impact entire communities. The need for qualified social workers is expected to grow in the next several years. On-line education programs such as the ones above can help people obtain their social work degree at home and with a flexible schedule.